By: Joseph White
WASHINGTON— Gilbert Arenas has a court date and an apparent plea deal is in place, signaling a possible quick resolution to at least one side of a guns-in-the-locker-room confrontation that stained the NBA and jeopardized the career of the three-time All-Star.
Arenas was charged Thursday with felony gun possession — one count of carrying a pistol without a license — a crime that carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison. The charges were filed in D.C. Superior Court in an “information,” a document that indicates a plea bargain has been reached.
The charge came directly from prosecutors and not in the form of an indictment — even though a grand jury has been investigating — and Arenas was listed on the docket for a court appearance Friday afternoon.
Arenas has acknowledged storing four unloaded guns in his locker at the Verizon Center, saying he wanted to keep them away from his young children and didn’t know it was a violation of the city’s strict gun laws. He says he took them out of the locker Dec. 21 in a “misguided effort to play a joke” on a teammate.
The criminal charge came on the same day that the teammate, Javaris Crittenton, had his northern Virginia apartment searched by police looking for a silver- or chrome-colored semiautomatic handgun with a black handle. The search warrant indicated police were investigating crimes that include brandishing a weapon. No evidence was seized, according to court documents, and Crittenton has not been charged.
Two league officials have said a spat between Arenas and Crittenton began Dec. 19 while players were playing cards and gambling on the team plane during a flight home from a West Coast road trip. Their dispute became heated when the team reconvened for practice two days later. There have been conflicting published accounts as to whether Crittenton had a gun and whether he drew it on Arenas.
Arenas’ lawyer, Crittenton’s lawyer and the NBA had no immediate comment on the criminal charge. Crittenton has previously said he did nothing wrong, and his agent, Mark Bartelstein, said his client was there during the apartment search.
“It went as smooth as it could have gone,” Bartelstein said.
Even if Arenas avoids a jail sentence, the outcome of the legal process will have profound implications on his future in the NBA and specifically with the Wizards. Possession of a gun at an NBA arena is a violation of the league’s collective bargaining agreement, and last week commissioner David Stern suspended Arenas indefinitely without pay pending the outcome of the investigation.
Stern was articularly upset that Arenas repeatedly joked about the matter with reporters and on Twitter and even pantomimed shooting teammates in a pregame huddle before a game at Philadelphia. Arenas attempted, in public at least, to use a “goof ball” defense, saying he meant no harm and never takes anything seriously. Stern, however, said that Arenas was “not currently fit to take the court” and that the 28-year-old player’s conduct will “ultimately result in a substantial suspension, and perhaps worse.”
In addition, the Wizards could attempt to invoke the morals clause found in standard NBA contracts and void the remainder of the six-year, $111 million deal Arenas signed in summer 2008. The players’ union would almost certainly contest such a move.
“We will continue to lend our full support to Gilbert and will assist him in every way possible to see this matter through,” union executive director Billy Hunter said.
Arenas has played in only 34 games since signing the contract because of a knee injury and the gun-related suspension.
Arenas was averaging 22.6 points and 7.2 assists this season for the Wizards, who are 12-25 and in last place in the NBA’s Southeast Division. The team has removed nearly all traces of the once-marketable “Agent Zero” from the Verizon Center, including Arenas merchandise with the jersey No. 0 and a huge banner with his photo.
The case has proved a major distraction for a troubled team. At least seven Wizards players and coach Flip Saunders have appeared before a grand jury or been questioned by authorities, leaving the team without enough players to hold a regular practice on some days. Arenas has been told to stay away from team functions during his suspension, and Crittenton, who has not played this season because of a foot injury, has been excused by the team while the legal process plays out.
“We are aware of the charge filed against Gilbert Arenas today and will continue to follow the ongoing legal process very carefully,” the Wizards said in a statement. “We will also continue to cooperate fully with the proper authorities and the NBA.”